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Women in the Navy

Catalogue number 112068

Women's Section of the Navy League, circa 1915

Miss Elizabeth Poe was the commandant of the Preparedness Camp of the Navy League, a civilian volunteer organization providing training to women for the defence of the country should the U.S.A. get drawn into the Great war. The Women’s Section of the Navy League (W.S.N.L.) was formed in 1915. Mrs Mildred Dewey was associated with the W.S.N.L. Comforts Committee when discussing the distribution of hand-knitted hoods, scarves and wristlets to American warships in the European war zone.

Recto: “+ Mrs Dewey I Miss Poe Commandant of camp” in pencil

13.7cm x 8.7cm Gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 112002

Women's Royal Australian Naval Service, 1952

The Women’s Royal Australian Naval Service (W.R.A.N.S.) was formed in 1942 in response to the need for manpower in the Pacific war. It was disbanded in 1947 only to be re-established in 1951 because of the need for men on sea-service due to the Cold war. This group of ratings undergoing officer training (white cover on the cap) are accompanied by three W.R.A.N.S. Third officers and three Royal Australian Navy (R.A.N.) officers including Engineer Captain Kenneth Urquhart (second from the right of the photo). Captain Urquhart was the General Manager of Williamstown Naval Dockyard at the time.

Verso: “Royal Australian Navy official photograph. Date taken 13 Mar 1952” as blue ink stamp

24.4cm x 19.1cm Gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 112004

Women's Royal Australian Naval Service, 1952

Captain Urquhart is watching the W.R.A.N.S. board the Dockyard Police motor launch to go out to H.M.A.S. Cerberus, 1952. The W.R.A.N.S. had just been reformed to counter the need for men at sea. Members of the R.A.N. Dockyard police are looking on.

Verso: “Royal Australian Navy official photograph. Date taken 13 Mar 1952” as blue ink stamp

24.4cm x 19.1cm Gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 112005

Women's Royal Australian Naval Service, 1952

H.M.A.S. Cerberus is a R.A.N. training establishment near Melbourne and the Williamstown Naval Dockyard. It was opened to W.R.A.N.S. in 1942 and this group are part of the new intake for officer training after a pause during the war.

Verso: “Royal Australian Navy official photograph. Date taken 13 Mar 1952” as blue ink stamp

24.4cm x 19.1cm Gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 112057

Superintendent Isherwood, W.R.N.S. Malta, 1946

In 1942, Dorothy Isherwood had been one of three W.R.N.S. officers sent to Ottawa to start the W.R.C.N.S. and became its Director in 1943 before returning to England in September. She retired in 1946 after serving as Superintendent to Commander in the Mediterranean.

Verso: “Wrens Malta 1946”

Credit: Rex Photo Studio, 42 St. Vincent Str. Sliema.

5.5cm x 8.5cm Gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 112056

Superintendent and staff, W.R.N.S. Malta, 1946

Superintendent Isherwood joined the W.R.N.S. in 1939 and is shown here with her staff, including a 1st officer (sitting on wall, right) and a Petty officer (standing left) in Malta. From 1943 to 1946 she was Superintendent in the Middle East and was based in Malta.

Verso: “Wrens Malta 1946”

Credit: Rex Photo Studio, 42 St. Vincent Str. Sliema.

14cm x 8.9cm Printed image


Catalogue number 112055

W.R.N.S. Malta, 1946

A group of W.R.N.S. in Malta 1946, several of them have medal ribbons and we can see the star badge – probably for office staff – on the right arm of two W.R.N.S.

Verso: “Wrens Malta 1946”

Credit: Rex Photo Studio, 42 St. Vincent Str. Sliema.

13cm x 7.8cm Gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 111072

Woman Petty Officer in the French Aéronavale, 1975

Although this is a heavily posed photograph of a woman air traffic controler- the radar screen is not functioning, there are no "departures" nor "arrivals" slips posted on the clipboard left of the screen and all switches seem to be in the up "off" position - it illustrates the ever increasing role of women in the French Navy.

Recto: "Female staff of the Navy. Operator at an aircraft approach radar console."

Credit: E.C.P.A.

23.7cm x 15.3cm Gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 11071

Women Petty Officers in the control tower, B.A.N. Landivisiau 1975

Two women of the French Navy at work in the control tower of the Aéronavale base at Landivisiau. They appear to be very young.

Recto: "Female staff of the Navy. Women Petty Officers in the control tower at the naval air station of Landivisiau"

Credit: E.C.P.A.

23.8cm x 15.2cm Gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 110039

Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service, U.S. Navy WAVES

In 1942, the U.S. Navy established a corps for women under the acronym of WAVES. They performed a wide variety of tasks previously occupied by men. Here a group of WAVES officers are enjoying a break whilst travelling on the Union Pacific railway.

14cm x 8.9cm Printed image


Catalogue number 110018

Petty Officer, Cook, W.R.N.S., 1939-45

This photograph was released to encourage women to join the W.R.N.S. and free men to crew ships. It presents an encouraging vision of promotion within the W.R.N.S. By the end of the war, many ex-W.R.N.S. women had acquired skills and trades that enabled them to obtain jobs.

Verso: "British Official Photograph: Crown Copyright Reserved. Distributed by the Ministry of Information. Women's Royal Naval Service. With the Fleet Air Arm. "I like making pastry". Here is P.O. Drummond, Petty Officer Cook on an air station. Before the war she was a cook. The Day after war was declared P.O. Drummond joined the W.R.N.S. as a wardroom galley cook. She served for a year, working under a naval chef and picked up hints on quantity cooking. She is now in charge of a W.R.N.S. galley and is cooking for 300 Wrens - and likes it." and "Women in the Marine. She says she likes cooking" in Croate

15.2cm x 20.3cm Gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 111073

Lossiemouth Unit 1953 with Dame Mary Lloyd

A fine group of WRNS at the Royal Navy Air Station (RNAS) Lossiemouth or HMS Fulmar with in the front row center, Dame Mary Lloyd, Director. There was a Miss Margaret Stallard who was promoted acting Third Officer W.R.N.S. from 9th May 1943 (cf The London Gazette 22nf June 1943).

Verso: "Lossie Unit with **** **** - Dame Mary Lloyd October 1953" in blue ink and "C/w Stallard" in pencil

28.3cm x 13.5cm Gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 108003

WRNS N°9 HQ, Devonport 1917

This splendid photograph shows a group of the newly formed WRNS and their officer in 1917. Non-substantive badges abound and show the range of jobs that the WRNS took on. In the center with her tricorn hat is a Deputy Director and to her right, with a crossed anchors and crown badge on her left arm is a Section Leader. On the front row sitting, we have, apart from the cat, a storekeeper/porter/messanger (crossed keys on right arm) and to her left, a clerical rating (crossed quills). Second and third from the right are two household workers (scallop shell on right arm). A new role for women at the time was the job of motor driver/motorcyclist, there is a motorcyclist on the back row, second from the right (note the close-fitting cap, heavy overcoat and the gauntlet gloves) and to her left is a motor driver. Most of the ratings appear to be very young.

Verso: "WRNS Mt Wise Devonport N°9 HQ 1917"

11.8cm x 7cm Photograph


Catalogue number 105070

Women's Royal Canadian Naval Service, WRCNS

The Women's Royal Canadian Naval Service was created along the lines of the British WRNS in July 1942. WRNS from Britain went over to help set-up the Canadian service which at its peak had 5,893 officers and ratings. This appears to be an accounts department, the Leading seaman to the left of center is studying a huge ledger. The WRCNS to the extreme left has a non-reglementary WRNS tie-pin.

Source: Royal Canadian Navy

18.8cm x 14cm Gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 105069

Party time with WRCNS and HMCS officers and men

This joyful gathering of Royal Canadian Navy men and women includes a variety of WRCNS and RCN officers and ratings, including a woman from the Royal Canadian Air Force Women's Division (second row from the back, seventh from the left, a man has his hands on her shoulders). The star badge with the letter "W" (for "Write") in the center designated a whole host of jobs concerned with bookkeeping and maintaining records (See two WRCNS rating sitting second and third from the left). There is a Regulating Chief WRNS just behind these two (laurel leaves and crown lapel badges). There are also several Leading WRCNS - extreme left and far right - (single anchor badge) and other RCN ranks too - a Lieutenant RCNVR (second row from the back, far right with his arms around two women) and a Sub-Lieutenant RCNVR (front row sitting third from the right).

24.5cm x 14cm Gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 105073

US Marine Corps Women's Reserve

Hesitation and disbelief that a woman could do a Marine's job first met the formation of the Women's Reserve in 1943 but the officers and women quickly showed what they could do at shore stations so as to free men for combat. A similar Women's Reserve already existed for the US Navy since 1942 and the two Reserves worked in close collaboration for recruitment. Here we see three women, in the summer dress uniform of white twill with the Marine Corps emblem on the jacket lapels, working in the uniform shop.

9.2cm x 10.8cm Gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 105068

Women's Reserve Officer

This Women's Reserve officer is working with a member of the US nursing service at a blood bank. She is wearing the forest green serge jacket of the Winter service uniform.

8.9cm x 10.9cm Gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 105072

Repair and maintenance of gyroscopes

A measure of the meticulous work that the Women's Reserve took on is the repair and maintenance of such precision instruments as the gyroscopes so vital for navigation. The women are wearing dungarees with the US Marine Corps badge on the left breast-pocket.

11.4cm x 7.4cm Gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 105071

Women Marines go to Hawaii, 1945

After a strict selection procedure, the first contingent of Women's Reserve to go abroad boarded the SS Matsonia on 25th January 1945 at San Franciso bound for Hawaii. There were five officers and 160 enlisted women and we can see them here with their backpack and blanket roll going up the gangplank. Looking on is a US Navy Women's Reserve rating and an officer (left foreground, black and white hats, respectively). The armband "NTS" on the officer's left arm stand for Naval Training Station.

8.9cm x 10.5cm Gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 105071

Women drivers

One of the previously male domains was driving heavy vehicles but, as shown here, women of the Marine Corps Women's Reserve were fully capable of taking over the job even if gearboxes were not synchronised and there was no power steering.

8.9cm x 10.5cm Gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 106016

WRNS Stewards, 1939 - 1945

Women of the WRNS took over many jobs previously done by men within the Royal Navy, all of which contributed to free the men to go to war. Here are three stewards from the Officer's Mess.

Verso: "In the WRENS (sic). Evelyn Rumford, formerly a waitress, starts her work in the services as an officers steward. Here she is making the acquaintance of the other stewards."

19.6cm x 14.7cm Gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 45143

WRNS Commodore 1946

Last year was the 100th anniversary of the creation of the Women's Royal Naval Service (WRNS). The aim in 1917 was to substitute women for men on certain shore work within the Royal Navy and so freeing men to go to sea. A similar service already existed, the Women's Auxiliary Army Corps, doing, for example, secretarial work and driving, so releasing men for duty in the Army. The scope of work was initially clerical and domestic duties but as the service developed, WRNS were employed in servicing anti-submarine equipment, coding, aircraft maintenance and signals. With the end of the war, the service was disbanded in 1919. The service was reformed in 1938 with Mrs Vera Laughton Mathews as Director/Commodore and WRNS increased the scope of their technical skills in parallel with the technological advances of the time. In this photograph taken in 1946, the Director (second from the right) is accompanied by a Deputy Director and possibly two Deputy Assistant Directors, WRNS.

Verso: Gwyneth Lilecaine (sic) Summer 1946 Commodore Dame Laughton Mathews etc

12.6cm x 7.8cm Gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 35248

A group of WRNS officers

This photograph shows a very smart group of WRNS officers accompanied by two wire-haired terriers. The officer's uniform first appeared in 1939 and consisted of a double-breasted jacket, a white blouse and black tie, a blue skirt, black stockings and laced shoes. The hat was a blue tricorn with a black band and the badge was a crowned silver foul anchor within a light blue laurel wreath. Ranks were indicated by light blue distinction lace with a diamond in place of the usual curl. Soft leather gloves completed the outfit.

13.3cm x 8.2cm Gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 105024

WRNS ratings

Eight WRNS ratings sometime after 1942 when the much-detested soft brimmed hat had been replaced by the sailor's cap. The cap was worn cocked to the right when on parade and "at an angle not more than 18 degrees"! The WRNS bottom row, extreme right has a six star-shaped non-substantive badge on her right arm indicating that she is specialized to work in a particular department.

13.2cm x 8.4cm Gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 65012

WRNS load a torpedo

A group of WRNS air mechanics in 1945 run a torpedo out of a hanger whilst a Petty Officer keeps a close eye on the operation. In the upper foreground are the clasps of a Fairey Barracuda to which the torpedo will be attached. Standard uniform was not adapted to this kind of work and the WRNS are wearing one-piece blue overalls. Their hair is held up in a headscarf and the blue edging of the square neck shirt can just be seen. Some of the WRNS look very young.

Verso: Text describing the role of WRNS air mechanics and stating that they service and overhaul practically all the aircraft in the Fleet Air Arm.

14cm x 19.6cm Gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 31020

WRNS air mechanics, 1945

WRNS air mechanics are training to repair what appears to be a worn-out Fairey Barracuda. They are wearing overalls - quite a revolution for the time - with headscarves and white shoes!

Verso: A text describing how this work by the WRNS helped to establish Allied air superiority - the photograph is from 1945 - and that many of the women entered the service directly from school.

19.8cm x 14.2cm Gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 65011

Armouring a Fairey Barracuda

Nothing seems to frighten these trainee WRNS as they winch 250lbs bombs up to the wing of a Fairey Barracuda. A Petty Officer - the same as in the torpedo photograph above? - supervises the winching operation from on top of the wing. The WRNS in the middle of the group has what looks like a specialist badge on the belt of her overalls.

Verso: A text underlines the important role of the WRNS in the Fleet Air Arm along with a description of the winching operation.

14.2cm x 19.8cm Gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 101198

Maintaining navigation charts up to date

The title of this photograph from 1942 is "W.R.N.S. at work correcting charts, on board a submarine depot ship". Both WRNS have their specialist badge on the right sleeve. The thick black stockings help to keep warm whilst working although there is a small electric heater, bottom left. Behind the WRNS in the background we can see a gas mask bag but judging by its bulging size, it has more than just a gas mask inside!

Verso: "Picture issued March 1942" followed by a text about the role of a submarine depot ship.

19.4cm x 14.6cm Gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 102014

Specialist radio mechanics

Specialist WRNS radio mechanics first appeared in 1941 and their duties were to maintain and repair radio sets for ships but the majority of women were with the Fleet Air Arm servicing wireless and radar sets. The text of this photograph states "In some cases the girls go up in the machines to give the radio sets a thorough testing.". It must have been quite an experience for these young women.

Verso: "W.R.N.S. Radio mechanics" followed by a text about the radio branch of the WRNS.

14,2cm x 19cm Gelatin silver print

Catalogue number 105039

The Girls in Blue !

This newspaper article of 11th July 1941, describes the merits of the WRNS, the "Girls in Blue!". The peacetime careers of some WRNS are given - author, concert singer, artist, teacher and librarian. Many WRNS ratings came from the homes of sailors and fishermen. Bottom right is a WRNS wearing the hated "pudding basin" style hat. Bottom left shows a group of WRNS selected for service abroad. They are dressed in tropical uniform and this group was drafted overseas to Singapore as specialist wireless telegraphy operators. They were rapidly evacuated to Ceylon just before the Japanese invaded Singapore. By the end of the war, WRNS were present in most Naval stations abroad.

18.1cm x 26cm Printed newspaper article